The Count of Monte Cristo

I’ve just finished the classic adventure book by Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo.  No, I didn’t read it in the original French, and I didn’t read it in all its volumes—it was an abridged version (not the full 1400 pages).  In fact, full disclosure, I didn’t actually read it.  I listened to the audio-book read by a British actor named David Case.  It was excellent.  Playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “Dumas was... a summit of art. Nobody ever could, or did, or will improve upon Dumas's romances and plays.”  Sounds right.

              I was impressed by the intricacies of plot, and also by the ability of the author (and the translator) to capture emotions and nuances with just the right turn of phrase.  It was a verbal feast—although I must admit that since my taste for entertaining books runs more to Louis L’Amour, my threshold for literary excellence is pretty low.  

              But The Count of Monte Cristo is also a morality tale of innocence, guilt, justice, and the inescapable judgment of God.  The main character, Edmond Dantes, was unjustly accused and placed without trial in a prison that is situated on a remote island.  For the next 14 years he plots his revenge on the four people who caused his ruin.  Each one of the four villains had an agenda that was entirely self-serving and deserves God's judgment--a constant theme throughout the book.

Edmond does indeed escape the inescapable prison (at age 33, ‘baptized’ in the ocean, risen to a new identity—who knew?), carrying with him the key to a vast fortune supplied by a fellow prisoner—a priest who became a second father, teacher, and mentor to Dantes.  The last half of the story contains the unfolding of justice, of providence, and occasionally of grace.  Each of the four subplots of revenge and justice is book-length and very elaborate in its own details.  Near the end of the story, when Edmond realizes the limitations of his own abilities to exert justice, he becomes more humble and more human again. 

              There is a cultural postscript to Dumas’ tale.  In 2002 a movie version of the story was produced, starring Jim Caviezel as the Count/Edmond.  It was well done, but other than the basic story outline, there was no resemblance to Dumas’ story.  There were major plot differences (in the movie, Edmond is reunited with his life-long love Mercedes; in the book that doesn’t happen). 

Probably the most glaring difference was that in the book Albert, the son of his former fiancée Mercedes, was indeed the son of his enemy, Mercedes’ husband; but in the movie, the screenwriter changed the tale so that Edmond and Mercedes had slept together before he was dragged off to prison, and Albert (played by Superman, Henry Cavill) was actually Edmond’s son.  In an interview, the screenwriter wondered how Dumas could miss such an obviously desirable twist to the plot.  But the answer is that Dumas inhabited a different moral universe than Hollywood screenwriters, and his hero would not have had sexual relations with Mercedes until they were properly married. 

              Actually, both the book and the movie are good.  Here is one of the last statements in the book, delivered by the Count/Edmond: “…never forget that until the day that God deigns to reveal himself to man, the sum of all human wisdom will be contained in these two words, wait and hope.”  It’s been interesting to be teaching through the principles of God’s justice (four sermons from Romans 2:1-16) to follow Dumas’ story of human justice.  At the end, the Count/Edmond sees the clear hand of God in His providence, in His judgment, and in His mercy.  Good story.  But between the book and the movie, go for the book.